“Persuade thyself that imperfection and inconvenience are
the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for
discontent, neither for despair.”
– Ieyasu Tokugawa

There’s a famous Zen story, you may have heard of it:

A man is enjoying his time in a canoe, floating on a river. Suddenly another canoe crashes into him. He turns in anger to confront the person who did it, only to discover that the other boat was empty.

The tradition it comes from teaches that the inconveniences of events and other people are all the same as that empty canoe, and unrelated to the narrative of life we tell ourselves.

I agree with that, and for a long time navigated life with the perspective, “other people are empty canoes.” Then, as I started exploring emotional mastery in depth, a related perspective arose.

The empty canoes (being cut off in traffic, someone else’s “negative energy”, a computer malfunctioning, etc) bring to the surface what’s already inside us so it can be more quickly released.

Per the laws of manifestation, energy acts as a magnet, bringing things into our lives that resonate at the same level as what’s inside us (especially the very deep unconscious). Whatever comes up in reaction to something is the very thing that brought it into one’s life in the first place.

If we allow this process to do its job, and don’t get hung up on whether or not we enjoy the experience – or how much the empty canoe is to blame – then the things we don’t like are drawn out of us like venom from a wound, and the things we do like become more full and vibrant within us.

For example, as I describe in my ebook, 20 Tips to Make Life Easier (yes, that’s a shameless plug), emotions have a 90-second life span without thoughts to sustain them. If we allow ourselves to fully feel what’s there for us without thoughts about the cause, the experience will change on its own to one more in line with our true nature.

All this means that other people and things play a much greater role in our lives than just empty canoes: they are vacuum cleaners.

They pull out of us the things we didn’t know were there, and as long as we don’t get caught up in the importance of our reaction (which is how we hold onto it), it will pass. Then, the quality of peace that is the background of all experiences becomes more profoundly known.